Monday, December 29, 2014

Is your "yes" to God open-ended?

          The Holy Family, along with countless other believers throughout history, had to face that their "yes" to God was a "yes" to everything that following God would demand of them, even though they couldn't foresee what that would be.  We, too, are called to give an open-ended "yes" to God: a "yes that trusts in his promises of protection and prosperity (as he promised to Abraham), a "yes" that is ready to respond to whatever his holy will calls us to.

          Often times our "yes" becomes closed (and if you've ever felt the need to go to confession, then your "yes" has become closed).  If so, go and make a good confession and open your "yes" to God once again.  God sent his Son to bring us life!  And this life is found when we keep our "yes" open to God.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!


Homily: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – Cycle B
          A few years ago, at the end of one of my summer breaks as a seminarian, I was invited to a vocations awareness dinner in the Diocese of Joliet (which is where I grew up).  The vocations director from that diocese was aware that I was a “son of the diocese” and so, even though I was affiliated with this diocese here in Indiana, he invited my parents and I to this dinner.  We were happy to accept.
          At this dinner, the (at that time) newly installed bishop of the diocese, Bishop Peter Sartain, was scheduled to speak.  In his talk during that dinner, he spoke of his experience of leaving his home diocese of Memphis to become bishop of the diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas; and then of leaving the diocese of Little Rock for the diocese of Joliet.  He said that, in both cases, he had to hearken back to the day of his ordination as a priest.  He said that he realized that on that day (the day of his ordination) he had said “yes” to God and that this “yes” was open ended.  In other words, he knew that his “yes” was a “yes” for whatever God, through his Church, would call him to do in the future, even if that would move him away from family and his beloved flock.  Thus, although he felt deep sadness to leave his home diocese and then his first diocese as a bishop, he trustingly accepted the call of the Church; for in his heart, he knew that he had already said “yes” to it all on the day of his ordination to the priesthood.
          In our Scriptures today, we encounter another man whose “yes” to God was open-ended, and which took him to places and experiences he never dreamed of.  Abraham (who, initially, was called simply “Abram”) was a man blessed by God and to whom God revealed himself in visions.  God had a plan for Abraham: a plan that would take him far from his native land, with only the vague assurance of prosperity when he arrived.  Abraham placed his faith in God who had revealed himself to him and set out from the land of Ur of the Chaldeans for an unknown land that he was to receive as an inheritance.
          This, of course, not only affected him, but his whole household.  His wife, Sarah, and their entire household (including his livestock) would move with him; and the hardship that they endured throughout the journey was great.  Abraham’s faith was tested—as was his relationship with his wife—but he persevered and settled in the land that God had promised him.
          Having settled in the land that God had promised to him, God promised Abraham prosperity and protection.  Abraham, however, questioned God’s promise: asking “What good will your gifts be if I keep on being childless?”  You see, these ancient peoples had not yet developed the notion of the immortal soul and so they believed that “eternal life” came from having children, in which your name—and, thus, your heritage—lived on.  Abraham didn’t want material prosperity; rather, he wanted eternal life.  Thus, God would make another promise: the promise of descendents more numerous than the stars in the sky. /// It would be many years, however, before God would fulfill this promise and grant to Abraham and his wife Sarah a son.  This was another test of Abraham’s faith: a test that, once again, affected his whole family.
          As difficult as this test might have been, there would still be one final test for Abraham.  After fulfilling his promise to give Abraham an heir, God then calls Abraham to offer his son Isaac back to him as a sacrifice.  At this point, I imagine that Abraham felt like he had had enough; and I imagine that he had to pray long and hard about whether or not he should obey.  In the end, I imagine that he thought back to that first revelation that God had given to him back in his homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans.  I imagine that he looked to that first “yes” that he had given to God and then realized that, to say “no” now, would be to negate all of the blessings that he had received by saying “yes” to everything that had come before.  In other words, he knew that his first “yes” was an open-ended one: a yes not only to God’s first command to leave his land for a land unknown to him, but also to everything that would come after; and so he said “yes” to God once again and brought his son to be offered as a sacrifice to him. /// We, of course, know the rest of this story: that God stopped Abraham from completing the sacrifice and, as the Letter to the Hebrews relates, Abraham “received Isaac back” and with it the promise of innumerable descendents.
          The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is also a family whose life was affected by an open-ended “yes” by its members.  Mary was confronted by the archangel Gabriel, who appeared to her and announced God’s incredible plan for her life.  She, however, had made a secret consecration of virginity to God and so could not comprehend how it would be possible for her to conceive the child that the angel was promising to her.  Nevertheless, she trusted in God and said “yes”: a “yes” that she would have to return to over and over again as more revelations would be made to her about who her son would be and the difficulties that he would face (and she through him)—revelations such as the one she received from the Temple prophet, Simeon.
          Joseph, too, would have to say “yes” to an angel—the one that appeared to him in a dream.  When he found that his supposedly virgin wife had become pregnant before they had consummated their marriage, he had decided to divorce her, because, as the Scriptures tell us, he was a righteous man and that was what the Mosaic Law demanded.  He, too, however, trusted in God and said “yes”: a “yes” that he, too, would have to return to in the future—such as when he was forced to flee with his family into Egypt to avoid Herod’s persecution.  His and Mary’s “yeses” to God were open-ended.  Although they could not foresee all that these would demand of them, yet they trusted in God and gave them anyway; and for this, they have already received their reward.
          To this day, faithful families in the land of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac—of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—find themselves in similarly difficult situations.  Christians throughout the Middle East, and especially today in Syria and Iraq, are being severely persecuted by highly-organized religious extremists and they are being forced to face their “yes” that they had given to God: the “yes” to put their faith in God’s complete revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to save us from our sin and to win for us eternal life.  They are being forced to acknowledge that their “yeses” were open-ended ones: for they could not foresee that the endurance of such persecution would be demanded of them.
          Believe it or not, we are not far from this experience, either.  Although we in this country are not subject to the violent persecutions that Christians are facing in the Middle East, we are, nonetheless, suffering from a persecution no less hostile.  Instead of confronting us with the threat of death—thus forcing us to renew our “yes” to God or to abandon it all together—we are being bombarded by a cacophony of confusion, in which our modern culture seeks to twist truths so that there are no longer absolutes and then push forward secular values which must be accepted.  Refusal results in persecution: not for being Christian, per se, but rather for being “intolerant” and “bigoted”.  It has so many of us confused that we’re not sure what we’ve said “yes” to, anymore.  This confusion has disrupted our families and has even caused division within them.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, this feast today is calling us back to our first “yes”: the “yes” that we proclaimed at our baptism (or at our confirmation, if we were only infants at our baptism).  The “yes” to trust in God through his Son, Jesus.  The “yes” to have faith his Church, the Body of Christ, who we are, and who, guided by the Holy Spirit, cannot err to provide for us clarity in the midst of confusion.  Like Abraham and his family, Sarah and Isaac, and like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and like Archbishop Sartain and the persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq, we must remember that our “yes” was never to an idea, but to a person—Jesus, our Savior—and to his promise that, in spite of whatever difficulties we might face, we will not die, but rather will have eternal life—that is, happiness—forever with him in heaven.  God is calling us today to put our faith in his promises: the promises that are fulfilled even here in this Eucharist as we offer Emmanuel, God with us, back to him on this altar.  Come, then, let us receive the fulfillment of these promises, so that, strengthened by them, we may go forth to bring the light of this truth to a dark world, so desperately in need of it.
          Let us pray, then, that the Holy Family may guide our families through this night and into the light of the fulfillment of God’s promises; and thus go forward in faith: for our God, who alone has the power to save us, is trustworthy.  He has promised and he will do it.  Amen.  Alleluia!

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 28th, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Eternidad se hizo visible

          Feliz Navidad a todos ustedes. Que la alegría del nacimiento de Jesús, nuestro Salvador, llene sus corazones y hogares a lo largo de este tiempo santo.


Homilía: La Navidad del Señor (Misa del Día)
          Era el otoño de 2008, cuando me senté a la primera sesión de mi clase de la Historia de la Iglesia en Saint Meinrad (que es el seminario al que asistí). En baraja un monje más anciano: delgada, casi nadando en su hábito negro, ligeramente encorvado, unos mechones de pelo blanco y gris todavía en la cabeza (y en la barba, para el caso), gafas gruesas, unos cuantos libros en la mano y una sonrisa amable en su rostro. Apretó los libros sobre la mesa y organizó algunos papeles en el podio (sus notas de clase, supuse) y miró su reloj para ver que era el momento de empezar la clase. Comenzó con una simple oración pidiendo la sabiduría de Dios para estar con nosotros (las oraciones del padre Cipriano siempre se sentían sincero, nunca artificiosa, que reveló una profunda y sincera espiritualidad). Luego miró hacia nosotros y dijo: "La historia es de hacer cráneos muertos hablar".
          Por supuesto, la broma es que el padre Cipriano enseña la historia de la Iglesia, porque es bastante viejo para haber visto todo a sí mismo; pero la verdad es que tiene un profundo amor por la historia—no sólo para las fechas y nombres, pero para el verdadero drama humano que tuvo lugar a los tiempos y lugares—y le encanta compartir esa experiencia con otros. Si el padre Cipriano fue aquí hoy para hablarnos de esta gran fiesta que estamos celebrando aquí, me imagino que iba a comenzar de esta manera:
"Hoy, estamos celebrando un cumpleaños. Y no cualquier cumpleaños; sino más bien el nacimiento de un rey: un rey que no necesita de pedigrí de su cuenta, pero que sin embargo comparte uno con el antiguo pueblo de Israel. Nació en una familia campesina—el hijo de un carpintero y una pobre muchacha judía—sin embargo, su nacimiento fue anunciado por nada menos que el ejército completo de los ángeles del cielo. Sí, mis amigos, hoy celebramos un día distinto a los demás: un día en el que Dios ha hecho historia”.
Como se pueden imaginar, he disfrutado de su clase y me enteré de ella el amor por la historia. En su espíritu, creo que hay tres cosas que nosotros, los que están aquí para celebrar esta fiesta, se debe llevar con nosotros hoy.
          En primer lugar, debemos reconocer que, con el nacimiento de Cristo, algo definitivo ha ocurrido en la historia. El nacimiento de Jesús, el Hijo del Dios Altísimo, que asumió la naturaleza de un ser humano sin detrimento de nadie de su divinidad, es definitivamente algo nuevo. A pesar de que nosotros no leemos a través de la genealogía de Jesús (que es una opción para la misa de hoy) se puede buscar rápidamente a ella y ver que el nacimiento de Jesús marca algo nuevo en la historia. Después de cuarenta y dos generaciones de relatando que este hombre era el padre de ese hombre, y él, el padre de la siguiente, Mateo llega a Jesús y dice: "Jacob engendró a José, el esposo de María, de la cual nació Jesús, llamado el Cristo”. Jesús es el único en esa larga lista cuyo padre biológico que no se nombra. Esto es sin duda algo nuevo.
          Entonces Mateo relata cómo el nacimiento de Jesús se produjo. José, que, estoy seguro, nunca habría pensado que iba a ser nada más que un carpintero de pueblo pequeño, y que probablemente nunca aspirado por nada más que tener un trabajo decente, formar una familia, y para dejar un patrimonio por sus hijos, de repente descubre que su esposa supuestamente virgen ha concebido un hijo. Él sólo puede asumir lo peor. Como hombre justo, él sabía que tenía que divorciarse de su esposa (porque eso es lo que exigía la ley judía); pero al parecer también era un hombre cariñoso y decidió dejarla en secreto, a fin de evitar que ella seria avergonzado. Sus sueños, sin embargo, comenzaron a desmoronarse. Fue entonces cuando el ángel reveló un nuevo sueño.
          Ahora, yo no sé lo que mi reacción a este sueño habría sido, pero puedo asegurarles que "cuando él despertó de aquel sueño, hizo lo que le había mandado el ángel del Señor" no habría sido una de las opciones! Quiero decir, ¿quién ha oído hablar de una virgen concibiendo un hijo sin tener relaciones con un hombre? Eso es locura, ¿verdad? /// Quizás para José tenía algo que ver con la profecía que el ángel citó: "He aquí que la virgen concebirá y dará a luz un hijo, a quien pondrán el nombre de Emmanuel, que quiere decir Dios-con-nosotros." Isaías profetizó esto al rey de Judea Acaz—uno de esos reyes nombrados en la genealogía de Jesús. Tal vez José recordó esta profecía y, por lo tanto, a pesar de que estaba sorprendido por su cumplimiento, podría no obstante tener el coraje de creer el mensaje del ángel. Papa emérito Benedicto XVI, en su libro sobre los narrativas de la infancia de Jesús, escribió que la idea del Mesías todavía no formaba parte de la mentalidad religiosa judía cuando Isaías profetizó esto al rey Acaz y así lo que él hacía era él formó un ojo de la cerradura cuya llave aún no se había hecho. Más de seiscientos años después, Jesús se convirtió en esa clave.
          Esto, por supuesto, era algo nuevo, algo que sólo puede pasar por Dios, algo que cambiaría el curso de la historia para siempre. De hecho, es más grande que la propia historia. El teólogo Hans Urs von Balthasar escribió una vez: "La Navidad no es un acontecimiento en la historia, sino que es la invasión de tiempo por la eternidad." Y así esto—que algo definitivo ocurrió con el nacimiento de Jesús—es la primera y más importante punto.
          La segunda cosa que debemos llevar con nosotros hoy es que esta "invasión de tiempo por la eternidad" es un regalo; y es un regalo para todos los pueblos. En la primera lectura de hoy nos enteramos de que el profeta Isaías dice que "verá la tierra entera la salvación que viene de nuestro Dios." Y así vemos que no hay discriminación aquí. El Hijo de Dios asumió la naturaleza humana para traer la salvación—es decir, la redención, la esperanza de una vida sin sufrimiento, y ayuda en medio del sufrimiento—a todo: a ti, a mí, a todos los presentes y a todos los que no son aquí. Jesús es el terreno común en el que todos, independientemente de su origen, se puede conocer y ver en el otro a un hermano, una hermana, un amigo.
          La tercera cosa es que la recepción de este regalo forma los que lo reciben en una comunidad. Cuando cualquiera de nosotros se ve sobre el niño de Belén acostado en un pesebre y ve en él—aunque sólo vagamente—la eternidad de alguna manera presente en el tiempo y lo acepta en la fe, que uno se une con la cada otra persona que haya aceptado esta misma verdad en sus corazones. Nos convertimos en una comunidad que se distingue por esta creencia, que viven de esta creencia, y así convertirse en el lugar privilegiado de encuentro con Emmanuel, Dios con nosotros. Por lo tanto, nuestra aceptación nunca puede ser parcial. Nunca podemos decir, "Oh, me gusta celebrar la Navidad, pero no creemos que Jesús era verdaderamente Dios hecho hombre." Esto está vacía! Es una caja de regalo bellamente envuelto que no tiene nada en el interior: una promesa de un poco de alegría que en última instancia va sin cumplir. Ya sea que usted reciba el regalo, y se convierte en uno con la comunidad de los creyentes, o se niega a recibirlo, y permanecer fuera de él.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, al celebrar este gran día—el día en que el Verbo hecho carne se hicieron visibles a nosotros—recordemos que algo nuevo ha sucedido, algo que cambió la historia por completo; y que es un regalo para nosotros, un don que todavía tiene el poder para cambiar nuestra historia, también. Y recordemos que cuando recibimos ese don que recibimos con una comunidad de hermanos y hermanas que comparten nuestra alegría y que anhelan el día de cumplimiento final cuando Cristo regrese.
          Hoy en día, la eternidad se hizo visible a nosotros. Aquí, en esta Eucaristía nos encontramos cara a cara con él una vez más. Y así, a todos los que han recibido el don de la fe en el Cristo-niño yo digo: "venimos a adorarlo."

Dado en la parroquia Todo los Santos: Logansport, IN
25º de diciembre, 2014

Eternity became visible

          Merry Christmas to all of you.  May the joy of the birth of Jesus, Our Savior, fill your hearts and homes throughout this holy season.


Homily: The Nativity of the Lord (Vigil)
          It was the fall of 2008 when I sat down to the first session of my Early Church History class at Saint Meinrad (which is the seminary I attended).  In shuffles a rather elderly monk: thin, nearly swimming in his black habit, slightly bent over, a few wisps of gray-white hair still on his head (and on his beard, for that matter), thick glasses, a few books in his hand and a gentle smile on his face.  He set his books on the desk and arranged a few papers on the podium (his notes for class, I assumed) and checked his watch to see that it was time to start class.  He began with a simple prayer asking for God’s wisdom to be with us (Fr. Cyprian’s prayers always felt sincere, never contrived, which revealed a deep, heartfelt spirituality).  Then he looked out at us and said: “History is about making dead skulls talk.”
          Of course, the joke is that Fr. Cyprian teaches Early Church History because he is old enough to have been there to experience it himself; but the truth is that he has a deep love of history—not dates and names, but the true human drama that took place at those times and places—and he loves sharing that experience with others.  If Fr. Cyprian was here today to tell us about this great feast that we are celebrating today, I’d imagine that he’d begin in this way:
“Today, we are celebrating a birthday.  And not just any birthday; but rather the birthday of a king: a king who needs no pedigree of his own but who nonetheless shares one with the ancient people of Israel.  He was born into a peasant family—the son of a carpenter and a poor Jewish girl—but his birth was heralded by nothing less than the full army of heaven’s angels.  Yes, my friends, today we celebrate a day unlike any other: a day in which God made history.”
As you might imagine, I did quite well in his class and I learned from it a love of history.  In his spirit, I think that there are three things that we who are here to celebrate this feast should take away with us today.
          First, we must acknowledge that with the birth of Christ something definitive has happened in history.  The birth of Jesus, the Son of God Most High who took on the nature of a human being without diminishing any of his divinity, is most definitely something new.  Even though we did not read through the genealogy of Jesus, which was an option for today’s Mass (and trust me no one here is more grateful for that than Father Eder over there), one can quickly look at it and see that the birth of Jesus marks something new in history.  After forty-two generations of recounting that so-and-so was the father of so-and-so, and he the father of the next one, Matthew arrives at Jesus and says “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.”  Jesus is the only one on that long list whose biological father is not named.  This was definitely something new.
          Then Matthew recounts how the birth of Jesus comes about.  Joseph, who, I’m sure, would have never thought that he would amount to anything more than a small-town carpenter, and who probably never aspired for anything more than to have decent work, start a family, and to leave a patrimony for his children, suddenly finds that his virgin wife has conceived a child.  He can only assume the worst.  As righteous man, he knew he had to divorce his wife (for that is what Jewish law demanded); but apparently he was also a caring man and so he decided to divorce her quietly, so as to keep her from shame.  His dreams, however, began to crumble.  That’s when the angel revealed a new dream.
          Now, I don’t know what my reaction to this dream would have been, but I can assure you that “when he awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him” would not have been one of the options!  I mean who ever heard of a virgin conceiving a child without having relations with a man?  That’s just crazy, right?  Perhaps it was the prophecy that the angel quoted: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”  Isaiah prophesied this to the Judean king Ahaz—one of those kings named in Jesus’ genealogy.  Perhaps Joseph remembered this prophecy and thus, even though he was surprised by its fulfillment, he could have the courage to believe the angel’s message.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his book about the infancy narratives of Jesus, wrote that the idea of the Messiah was not yet part of the Jewish religious mindset when Isaiah prophesied this to king Ahaz and so what he did was he formed a keyhole whose key had not yet been made.  Over six-hundred years later, Jesus became that key.
          This, of course, was something new: something that could only happen by God, something that would change the course of history forever.  In fact, it is bigger than history itself.  The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote: “Christmas is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity.”  This—that something definitive happened at the birth of Jesus—is the first and most important point.
          The second thing that we should take with us today is that this “invasion of time by eternity” is a gift; and it is a gift for all peoples.  In today’s second reading we heard Paul speaking to the congregation in the synagogue in Antioch and addressing not just the Israelites but all who were present (even the Gentile believers, who were called “God-fearers”).  There is no discrimination here.  The Son of God took on human nature to bring salvation—that is, redemption, hope for a life without suffering, and help in the midst of suffering—to everyone: to you, to me, to everyone here and to everyone who is not here.  Jesus is the common ground where everyone, regardless of background, can meet and see in each other a brother, a sister, a friend.
          The third thing is that the receiving of this gift forms those who receive it into a community.  When any one of us looks upon the child of Bethlehem lying in a manger and sees in him—even if only dimly—eternity somehow present in time and accepts it in faith, that one becomes united to every other person who has ever accepted this same truth into their hearts.  We become a community distinguished by this belief who live by this belief and thus become the privileged place of encounter with Emmanuel, God with us.  Therefore, our acceptance can never be partial.  We can never say, “Oh, I like to celebrate Christmas, but I don’t believe that Jesus was truly God made man.”  This is empty!  It is the beautifully wrapped gift box that has nothing inside.  It is a promise of some joy that ultimately goes unfulfilled.  Either you receive the gift, and become one with the community of believers, or you refuse to receive it, and remain outside of it.
          My brothers and sisters, as we celebrate this great day—the day the Word made Flesh became visible to us—let us remember that something new has happened, something that changed history completely; and that it is a gift to us, a gift that still has the power to change our history, too.  And let us remember that when we receive that gift we receive with it a community of brothers and sisters who share in our joy and who long for the day of ultimate fulfillment when Christ returns.
          Today, eternity was made visible to us.  Here in this Eucharist we come face to face with it once again.  And so, to all of us who have received the gift of faith in the Christ-child I say “come, let us adore him.”

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 24th, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reciba sus alas esta Navidad

          Primer mensaje del ángel Gabriel a María era que estaba muy favorecida por Dios. Cada uno de nosotros, hecho a imagen y semejanza de Dios también es favorecido por él. Muchas personas hoy en día no saben esto. Esta Navidad, seamos ángeles de Dios por llevar este mensaje a todos los que nos rodean que sus vidas son importantes y que Dios tiene planes increíbles para ellos. Es un don de la esperanza de que cada uno de nosotros no puede permitirse no dar.

Para ver la pelicula ¡Que Bello es Vivir! en espanol, clic aqui.


Homilía: 4ª Domingo del Adviento – Ciclo B
          ¡Que Bello es Vivir! es una película clásico para la Navidad que cuenta la historia de George Bailey, que, después de llevar una vida exitosa en un pueblo pequeño, cae en tiempos difíciles y en la víspera de Navidad se ha convertido tan deprimido que él cree que la vida en general haría sido mejor sin él. Como él está en un puente, listo para lanzarse a las aguas heladas, un ángel interviene para mostrar George lo que la vida habría sido como sin él. Esta asignación para el ángel era una prueba que demostraría si el ángel estaba listo para recibir sus alas. Espero que no arruinara la trama para ustedes por decir que el ángel, cuyo nombre es Clarence, tuvo éxito en su tarea de hacer George cuenta de lo valioso había sido su vida; y así, al final de la película, cuando suena una campana, una niña recuerda que su maestro le dijo "que en cualquier momento una campana suena un ángel recibe sus alas" y George se da cuenta de que Clarence ha recibido la suya.
          Bueno, la palabra "ángel" viene de la palabra griega "angelos", que significa "mensajero", "enviado" o "uno que anuncia." Y así, la ironía de la película—que se pasa por alto en su mayoría—es que Clarence logra su condición de "ángel de pleno derecho" por haciendo exactamente lo que es que los ángeles hacen: llevando un mensaje de esperanza a George, recordándole que su vida estaba realmente valorado por las personas a su alrededor y, al menos implícitamente, por Dios. /// Los ángeles son enviados para llevar mensajes importantes de Dios.
          Por supuesto, los mensajes más importantes van a ser enviados a los mensajeros más importantes. Por lo tanto, vemos que es Gabriel, un arcángel, que es enviado a llevar el mensaje más importante de Dios a María. Porque fue Gabriel quien fue enviado a Zacarías, el esposo de Isabel, para anunciar la concepción de Juan el Bautista y también se cree que es Gabriel quien habló de la tumba de Jesús, anunciando que "el que ellos estaban buscando ya no estaba allí; pero de haber resucitado." Los estudiosos han argumentado que esta evidencia indica que Gabriel es en verdad el "arcángel de los arcángeles". Sin embargo, no es sus habilidades particulares que lo hacen grande, sino que es la grandeza del mensaje que lleva que lo distingue.
          El mensaje de Gabriel, como hemos escuchado en la lectura del Evangelio de hoy, es que el principio de la plenitud de los tiempos está cerca. Él está anunciando que, después de generaciones de espera, el Prometido de Dios está a punto de aparecer. /// Miran, lo sorprendente de la Anunciación es que tantas cosas tenían que alinearse para que suceda. Algo así como un juego de ajedrez sobrenatural, Dios había estado esperando por todas las piezas para alinearse para que pudiera promulgar su plan perfecto para la salvación de la humanidad. Desde el primer pecado de Adán y Eva, Dios había estado moviendo entre nosotros, revelando a sí mismo y a su plan para la salvación del hombre a nosotros y que nos anima a aprender a andar en sus caminos. Él esperó a que nuestras inclinaciones pecaminosas nos causó vagar lejos de su plan y luego esperó a que su gracia lentamente nos llevó de nuevo en el, por lo que, en su tiempo perfecto, su única favorecida, María, podría nacer libre de pecado por un extraordinario acto de gracia y así estar listo para recibir el mensaje de que el ángel Gabriel traería a ella en ese día glorioso.
          Los ángeles, también, esperaron ansiosamente el plan perfecto de Dios para llegar a buen término. Y así, cuando llegó el momento de este gran mensaje de la Encarnación para ser entregado a María, el ángel Gabriel llegó a toda prisa para entregarlo. Cuando él la saludó, Gabriel no lo hizo como si su mensaje era una especie de citación proclamando que ella debe cumplir con la voluntad de Dios. Más bien, su saludo llegó con un reconocimiento de su sublime dignidad como una altamente considerado por Dios. María, por su parte, recibió el mensaje con sorpresa, ignorante de la dignidad que Dios había otorgado a ella. Y aunque sin duda el mensaje de que el único Hijo de Dios se convertiría en el hombre y nacer de María es el mensaje principal que llevó a Gabriel, parece también que llevaba un mensaje secundario de gran importancia: "Oh humilde esclava del Señor. ¡Alégrate! Usted ha sido muy apreciada por Dios." Este ángel, que ya conoce la bendición de ser considerada por Dios, estaba ansioso por llevar este mensaje de gran alegría a María. Y así vemos que el mensaje en sí es una bendición, una bendición que abre la puerta para una bendición aún más abundante: la Palabra que se hizo carne en el seno de María.
          En muchos sentidos, estamos experimentando otro momento de la espera, al igual que los antiguos hebreos experimentaron mientras esperaban la venida del Mesías. Jesucristo, el prometido de Dios, ha venido y nos ha traído la salvación a través de su vida, muerte y resurrección. Subió a los cielos y espera ahora, hasta la plenitud del tiempo se perfecciona—es decir, hasta que todas las piezas del plan maravillosamente misterioso de Dios vienen en su lugar—cuando él vendrá de nuevo para marcar el comienzo de un nuevo cielo y una nueva tierra y para llamar a sus escogidos a casa. Esta anticipación de su venida es lo que hemos estado recordando en estas últimas tres semanas de Adviento. A medida que nos ocupamos ahora y centramos nuestra atención en nuestro recuerdo y celebración de la primera venida de Cristo, nos encontramos con una oportunidad perfecta para cooperar en poner en su lugar las piezas que conduzcan a la segunda venida de Cristo.
          Miran, parte de nuestra vocación como cristianos es, en cierto sentido, a ser ángeles del Señor. Hay mucha gente a nuestro alrededor que nunca han escuchado el mensaje de que María recibió del ángel Gabriel: que son muy apreciados por Dios. Sin embargo, sospecho que cada día se nos da la oportunidad de dar ese mensaje a alguien. En el libro del Génesis, se nos dice que "Dios miró todo lo que había hecho y dijo: "Es muy bueno"." Por lo tanto, de una manera especial, porque cada uno de nosotros está hecho a imagen y semejanza de Dios, Dios nos mira con favor y nos invita a todos a recibir un mensaje similar al que se llevó a Gabriel a María: "¡Salve, muy favorecida! Dios desea habitar en ti, si tan sólo se lo permitió".
          Ahora, no creo que exagero cuando digo que cada día Dios nos da la oportunidad de decir a alguien: "Usted es importante aquí. Su vida importa, porque Dios tiene un plan hermoso para su vida". Tal vez incluso ahora somos conscientes de alguien que necesita escuchar ese mensaje. Si es así, entonces yo invito a hacer un compromiso en este momento para llevar ese mensaje a ellos esta semana. Si no, entonces los invito a rezar esta semana que Dios te revelará quien él quiere que le lleves este mensaje, el mensaje gozoso de Emanuel, Dios con nosotros, en la semana que viene. Y cuando se siente el impulso del Espíritu Santo, es decir, cuando se siente movido a compartir este mensaje con alguien que se encuentra con esta semana, le animo a que responde como María: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “cúmplase en mí lo que me has dicho.”
          Mis hermanas y hermanos, a medida que completamos nuestros preparativos para celebrar nuestro recuerdo de la venida de Cristo—es decir, mientras nos preparamos no sólo nuestras casas, pero nuestros corazones como así—prestemos atención también a nuestro llamado a ser ángeles de la misericordia de Dios a los que nos rodean. Si lo hacemos, tal vez entonces una campana sonará también para cada uno de nosotros el día de Navidad.
Dado en la parroquia de Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN

21ª de diciembre, 2014

Get your wings this Christmas

          The angel Gabriel's first message to Mary was that she was highly favored by God.  Each of us, made in the image and likeness of God is also favored by him.  Many people today do not know this.  This Christmas, let's be angels of God by bring the message to all around us that their lives matter and that God has amazing plans for them.  It is a gift of hope that each of us can't afford not to give.


Homily: 4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
“Look Daddy!  Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”  “That's right, that's right.  Attaboy, Clarence.”
          I would guess that more than a few of us could probably name the film that this line comes from.  For those who may not be able to, it is a line from the end of the movie It’s A Wonderful LifeIt’s A Wonderful Life is a classic film for the holidays that tells the story of George Bailey who, after building a successful life in small-town America, falls on hard times and on Christmas Eve has become so depressed that he believes that life in general would have been better without him.  As he stands on a bridge, ready to throw himself into icy waters, an angel intervenes to show George what life would have been like without him.  This “assignment” for the angel was a test that would prove whether or not the angel was ready to “get his wings.”  Hopefully, I won’t ruin the plot too badly for you by telling you that the angel, Clarence, was successful in his task of making George realize just how valuable his life had been, and so at the end of the film, when a bell rings, the little girl quotes her teacher and George realizes that Clarence indeed has made it.
          Now, the word “angel” comes from the Greek word “angelos,” which means “messenger,” “envoy,” or “one that announces.”  And so the irony of the movie, which is mostly—and, I would say, rightly—overlooked, is that Clarence achieves his full-fledged angel status by doing exactly what it is that angels do: bringing a message of hope to George, reminding him that his life was truly valued by the people around him and, at least implicitly, by God.  /// Angels are sent to carry important messages from God.
          Of course, the most important messages are going to be sent with the most important messengers.  Therefore, we see that it is Gabriel, an archangel, who is sent to carry God’s most important message to Mary.  For it was Gabriel who was sent to Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, to announce the conception of John the Baptist and it is also thought to be Gabriel who spoke from the tomb of Jesus, announcing that “the one they were looking for was no longer there; but that he was risen.”  Scholars have argued that this evidence indicates that Gabriel is indeed the “archangel of archangels.”  Yet, it is not his particular abilities that make him great, but rather it is the greatness of the message that he carries that sets him apart.
          Gabriel’s message, as we’ve heard in today’s Gospel reading, is that the beginning of the fullness of time is at hand.  He is announcing that, after generations of waiting, the Promised One of God is about to appear. /// You know, the amazing thing about the annunciation is that so many things had to line up for it to happen.  Kind of like a supernatural game of chess, God had been waiting for all of the pieces to line up so that he could enact his perfect plan for the salvation of mankind.  Ever since the first sin of Adam and Eve, God had been moving among us, revealing himself and his plan for the salvation of man to us and encouraging us to learn to walk in his ways.  He waited as our sinful inclinations caused us to drift away from his plan and then he waited as his grace slowly led us back into it, so that, in his perfect timing, his favored one, Mary, could be born free of sin by an extraordinary act of grace and thus be ready to receive the message that the angel Gabriel would bring to her on that glorious day.
          The angels, too, waited anxiously for God’s perfect plan to come to fruition.  And so when it came time for this great message of the Incarnation to be delivered to Mary, the angel Gabriel arrived in haste to deliver it.  When he greeted her, Gabriel did not do so as if his message was some sort of subpoena proclaiming that she must comply with God’s will.  Rather, his greeting came with an acknowledgement of her sublime dignity as one highly regarded by God.  Mary, on her part, received the message with surprise, unaware of the dignity that God had bestowed upon her.  And while certainly the message that God’s only Son was to become man and be born of Mary is the primary message that Gabriel carried, it seems also that he carried a secondary message of significant importance: “O lowly handmaiden of the Lord.  Rejoice!  You have been highly regarded by God.”  This angel, who already knows the blessing of being regarded by God, was eager to bring this message of great joy to Mary.  And so we see that the message itself is a blessing, a blessing that opens the door for an even more abundant blessing: the Word become flesh in Mary’s womb.
          In many ways, we are experiencing another time of waiting, much like the ancient Hebrews experienced as they were waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  Jesus Christ, the promised one of God, has come and has brought us salvation through his life, death, and resurrection.  He ascended into heaven and waits now, until the fullness of time comes to completion—that is, until all of the pieces of God’s wonderfully mysterious plan come into place—when he will come again to usher in a new heaven and a new earth and to call his chosen ones home.  This anticipation of his coming is what we have been remembering in these past three weeks of Advent.  As we turn now and focus our attention on our remembrance and celebration of Christ’s first coming, we find ourselves with a perfect opportunity to cooperate in putting into place those pieces that will lead to Christ’s second coming.
          You see, part of our calling as Christians is, in some sense, to be angels of the Lord.  There are many people around us who have never heard the message that Mary received from the angel Gabriel: that they are highly regarded by God.  Yet, I suspect that every day we are given the opportunity to give that very message to someone.  In the book of Genesis, it tells us that “God looked at all he had made and said, ‘It is very good.’”  Therefore, in a special way, because each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, God looks on us with favor and invites us all to receive a message similar to the one Gabriel carried to Mary: “Hail, favored one!  God desires to dwell in you, if only you would let him.”  Now, I don’t believe that I exaggerate when I say that each and every day God gives us a chance to say to someone, “You are important here.  Your life matters, because God has a beautiful plan for your life.”  Perhaps even now we are aware of someone who needs to hear that message.  If so, then I invite you to make a commitment right now to carry that message to them this week.  If not, then I invite you to pray this week that God will reveal to you who he wants you to bring this message to, the joyful message of Emmanuel, God with us, in this coming week.  And when you feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit—in other words, when you feel moved to share this message with someone that you encounter this week—I encourage you to respond just like Mary did: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, Let it be done to me according to your Word.
          My sisters and brothers, as we complete our preparations to celebrate our remembrance of the coming of Christ—that is, as we prepare not only our homes, but our hearts as well—let us also heed our call to be angels of God’s mercy to those around us.  If we do, perhaps then on Christmas Day a bell will ring also for each one of us.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 21st, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rejoice! The end is near!

          The third week of Advent is upon us, which means that the end is near!  Are you ready?  No, not for Christmas, but for the second coming of Christ!  Christmas will come and we will be ready enough, but if this time hasn't helped us to prepare for Christ's second coming, then we haven't used this time well.  Go to confession.  Pray.  Then look with expectant hope for Jesus to come again in glory.  Then will you be able to rejoice, because the end is near.


Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
          In one form or another, we all have probably seen them.  I call them “sandwich board prophets.”  You know, the ones who walk through city streets or stand on street corners wearing a sandwich board sign that in big, hand-painted letters reads “The end is near!”  These folks will tell you that they are reading the “signs of the times”—that is, they are interpreting current events—and that these indicate that the end of civilization as we know it—or, perhaps, even the end of the universe itself—is very near.  It can be an unsettling message for someone just going about their day; one that can leave him or her feeling rather uncomfortable.
          However you may have seen them (if not in real life then depicted in films or in TV shows or on the news), they almost always have the appearance of someone who isn’t quite connected with mainstream culture.  These folks usually look pretty disheveled: long, unkempt hair, ratty clothes, a scraggly beard (on men), and a look in their eyes that makes you question who’s really there behind them.  Thus, in spite of their discomfiting message (or, perhaps, because of it), you find it easy to shrug them off.  And why?  Well, because he or she looks… what?  Crazy! Yep, they’re crazy.  Because if they’re crazy then we can forget about what they are trying to tell us and go on with our comfortable lives.
          A couple of millennia ago, a man named John came from a little hill town of Judea and began to proclaim an uncomfortable message to the people of Judah.  “Repent”, he said, “and be baptized, for a mighty one, the Lord’s anointed, is coming!”  This man John was crying out in a deserted place, outside of Jerusalem.  The author of the Gospel of Mark tells us that “he was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” and that “he fed on locusts and wild honey.”  It certainly doesn’t stretch the imagination to think that this John would look right at home on a street corner in New York City with a sandwich board sign on his shoulders reading “The end is near!” (Perhaps this is where the modern sandwich board prophets got their look.)
          John’s message was certainly uncomfortable for many.  Unlike our modern examples of sandwich board prophets, however, people were actually listening to John’s message and they were coming to be baptized by him in the Jordan River.  Thus, in spite of the fact that many, perhaps, wanted to sign him off as crazy, the people of Judah were forced to take him seriously.  And so, as we heard today from the Gospel of John, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent a delegation of priests and Levites (that is, men from the priestly tribe of Levi) to find out who he was.  John’s message was uncomfortable and so they needed a way to make sense of it and, perhaps, to explain it away.
          John, however, eludes their categories.  First, John straightly admits that he is not the Christ.  He would not allow even the slightest bit of speculation to be circulated about that question.  Then, they ask if he is Elijah, the prophet, who, it was believed, would appear again just before the Messiah would come.  But, in spite of the fact that, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus himself will say that John is Elijah, John denies it.  Next the priests and Levites ask if he is the Prophet (that is, the one who Moses predicted would arise after him).  Again, John denies it.  Frustrated, they finally give in and say “Just tell us, because we have to have something to tell the religious leaders back in Jerusalem!”  To this John gives an enigmatic answer: “I am a voice crying out… Prepare!”  The Jewish leaders wanted another category in which to put him so that they might feel more comfortable with him; but he defied their categorization.
          John, however, seems to have seen himself as fulfilling a prophesy of Isaiah; and thus sharing in the same “anointing of God’s spirit” that Isaiah claimed to have in our first reading.  Isaiah’s message was something much more joyful; for he claimed that he was sent “to announce a year of favor from the Lord”, in which those who suffer would be freed from their suffering.  This was a very joyful message for those who heard it and many of the people of Israel rejoiced with him for having proclaimed it.
          Each of us has been anointed with God’s Spirit.  In our baptism, we were cleansed of sin and became children of God: temples of God’s Holy Spirit.  In Confirmation, the Gift of the Holy Spirit was sealed within us, strengthening us to announce Good News to the people of the world.  (Our Brother, Tim, is about to receive this sealing as he is received into full communion with the Church.)  Because each of us has been anointed and sealed with God’s Holy Spirit in this way, we are each called to make some proclamation in our lives.  Some of us, like Isaiah in today’s reading, may feel like we have been given a joyful message that the end of suffering is upon us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus our Savior.  Others, like John, may feel like we have been given a discomfiting message: the call to repentance because the time of the Lord’s return is near.  In reality, however, these two calls often interchange through the different seasons of our lives.  Nevertheless, the call to proclaim these messages as Good News remains unchanging.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge today that each of us is called to be a “sandwich board prophet”, because each of us, through our baptism and confirmation, has been anointed with the Lord’s Spirit to proclaim the coming age of the end of suffering and thus to call all people to repent—that is to turn away from their worldly comfort—so as to prepare for the coming of the Mighty One, the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus, Our Savior, who is coming after us and who surely is coming soon.  What’s that?  Sure.  Go ahead and clothe yourself in camel’s hair if that helps inspire you to take up your call; but it’s not necessary.  All that’s needed is a love of our Lord Jesus and a fervent desire that everyone else would know and love him, too.  (And, by the way, if you’re missing either of these things, then seek the Lord in prayer and ask him to draw near, most especially here in the Holy Eucharist: for He surely will.)
          Let us, then, take up this call (and our sandwich board, if necessary) and proclaim the coming of our Lord.  For when we do, we will acknowledge that the end is truly near and we will hasten the Lord’s coming; thus hastening the time when we will truly know what it means to rejoice.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 14th, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Es hora de conseguir personal

          ¿Qué? Usted no está entusiasmado por la idea de que Jesús regresaría mañana? Tal vez usted debe examinar qué tipo de relación que tiene con él. ¿Es como la relación que tiene con su recolector de basura, cuya ausencia apenas se nota? O es como la relación que tienes con tu mejor amigo o su cónyuge, quien odias estar lejos de? Si es más como la primera, entonces es el momento de conseguir personal con Jesús. Tome este tiempo de Adviento para llegar a conocerlo más.


Homilía: 2o Domingo del Adviento – Ciclo B
          En la superficie, Alma y Riley parecen ser como muchas otras parejas jóvenes que se preparan para casarse. Ellos son del tipo "novia del high school". Se conocieron en el high school y no estaban interesados en sí al principio, pero, cuando llegaron a conocerse un poco mejor, encontraron que había una chispa entre ellos. Cinco años más tarde y esa chispa se ha convertido en un cálido fuego de amor, tanto es así que se sienten llamados a dar su amor permanente en el vínculo del matrimonio.
          Aquí es donde el "normal" en su relación termina, sin embargo. Después del high school, Riley se unió a la Guardia Costera y así, por un poco más de un año y medio, Riley y Alma han pasado la mayor parte de su tiempo separados entre sí (y no estamos hablando sólo un par de estados: Actualmente él está estacionado en Alaska). Así Alma ha pasado mucho tiempo esperando el regreso de Riley. Tienen una fecha de la boda, sin embargo, y se casaron poco; y debido a esto, Alma ha estado trabajando duro para hacer los preparativos para ese día. Ella está enfocada y esto ha hecho que su espera con propósito, incluso alegre, a pesar del hecho de que, cuando Riley regresa, todo su mundo cambiará dramáticamente.
          Lo que Alma está experimentando en anticipación de su día de boda es exactamente lo que la Iglesia nos invita a experimentar durante el tiempo de Adviento. Nuestro Señor Jesús, cuando ascendió al cielo, prometió que un día volverá para llevarnos a estar donde está. Y por eso, ahora estamos separados de él por un tiempo y hay que esperar su regreso. Esta espera no es el tipo de esperar que hagamos en el consultorio de un médico, sin embargo, en que no hay nada que hacer, sino más bien es una espera con el propósito: una espera en la que constantemente estamos preparando para su regreso; una espera alegre, a pesar del hecho de que cuando regrese todo nuestro mundo cambiará dramáticamente. Adviento es el tiempo del año en la que reenfocamos nosotros mismos en esa realidad.
          Pero, ¿qué tipo de preparaciones deberíamos estar haciendo? Bueno, como Alma preparándose para su día de boda, tenemos que estar en poner todo en orden para el día de su regreso; y Juan el Bautista nos muestra dónde debemos empezar: arrepentirse, reconocer sus pecados, y que sus pecados sean perdonados. Entonces, como San Pedro nos dice, debemos "conducirnos de santidad y devoción ... esperando un cielo nuevo y una tierra nueva en los cuales mora la justicia." En otras palabras, debemos vivir una vida de santidad en la que nos esforzamos para traer la justicia con el fin de acelerar la llegada de los nuevos cielos y la nueva tierra en donde morará la justicia. Sin embargo, luchamos para hacer esto. ¿Por Qué? Creo que es porque, para muchos de nosotros, que hemos puesto "el carro delante del caballo", por así decirlo.
          Ustedes vean, Alma espera ansiosamente el regreso de Riley porque ella es profundamente enamorada de él (y él de ella). En otras palabras, tienen una relación profunda y personal que de este modo los inspira a hacen todo lo posible para poner fin a cualquier separación entre ellos. Alma no está haciendo todos estos preparativos para cualquier recompensa personal con que ella espera obtener para sí misma, excepto que de estar unidos—unidos de forma permanente—a esta persona con que ella está enamorada; y ella sabe que cada hora que se pasa a hacer los preparativos para su día de boda es una hora más cerca de ese momento en que Riley volverá—que, de hecho, cada hora así acelera su regreso—y por lo tanto será separado nada más.
          Nosotros, sin embargo, somos apáticos sobre—quizás incluso miedo de—el regreso de Jesús a nosotros. Y esto es precisamente porque no tenemos una relación personal con él. Quiero decir, no te emociones para celebrar la venida de su colector de basura cada semana, ¿verdad? No. ¿Por qué? Bueno, probablemente porque no siquiera saben quién él o ella es y así que no tienen una relación personal con él o ella. Por lo tanto, su separación a lo largo de la semana que no causa gran preocupación y su vuelta cada semana que podría igualmente tomar o dejar. De hecho, el retorno de su colector de basura cada semana sólo es importante para usted debido a lo que él o ella ofrece a usted cuando él o ella viene: el hecho de que él o ella está presente allí con usted una vez más que realmente no importa nada a usted en todo. Esto, me atrevería a decir, es la forma en que, muchas veces, vemos a Jesús: el recolector de basura que un día va a venir y limpiar nuestra basura, pero luego nos dejan para seguir nuestros propios caminos.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, si nuestra actitud hacia la segunda venida de Jesús es algo parecido a lo que acabo de describir—o si simplemente nos sentimos un malestar general acerca de su venida—entonces Adviento para nosotros se trata de despertar a la posibilidad de entrar personalmente en una relación con él: porque es sólo en una relación personal con él que vamos a descubrir un sentido de emoción y anticipación de su regreso. Si ya lo tenemos, entonces estamos inspirados, como Alma, para esperar con expectación por su regreso; y nos preparamos para ello por ser limpio del pecado y de la promulgación de las obras de la justicia como si ambos dimos la bienvenida a su llegada y estábamos seguros de que iba a suceder pronto. Si no tenemos esa relación personal, sin embargo, entonces nuestras vidas perder el enfoque y, en lugar de prepararse para algo, empezamos a perseguir cualquier cosa que parece generar entusiasmo para nosotros.
          Si usted se encuentra en esta última categoría (y las estadísticas dicen que la mayoría de nosotros lo son), entonces quiero invitarlos hacer esta pregunta: "¿Es mi vida realmente tan bueno que Jesús no me puede ofrecer algo mejor?" Mi conjetura es que la respuesta para todos nosotros es "no", y que nosotros deseamos para más de la vida. Si es así, entonces este tiempo de Adviento es el tiempo para comenzar a buscar (o renovar) una relación con Jesús que le dará enfoque y objeto a nuestra espera para su regreso.
          Mis hermanos y hermanas, en la segunda carta de San Pedro nos escucharon buenas noticias: que el retraso del regreso del Señor no es un retraso en el cumplimiento de sus promesas, sino que es un retraso misericordioso, dando tiempo para que cada uno de nosotros arrepentirse y prepararse para su venida. Pero él no va a esperar para siempre! Por lo tanto, volvamos a Jesús ahora y tratar de conocerlo más profundamente y más personalmente—sobre todo por forjar tiempo cada día para pasar con él en la reflexión tranquila en las Escrituras—por lo que el mejor regalo que recibes esta Navidad será la alegría de saber el Señor, profundo en tu corazón.

Dado en la parroquia Todos los Santos: Logansport, IN – 7 de diciembre, 2014

It's time to get personal

          What?  You're not excited by the idea that Jesus would return tomorrow?  Perhaps you should examine what kind of relationship you have with him.  Is it like the relationship that you have with your garbage collector, whose absence you hardly notice?  Or is it like the relationship that you have with your best friend or your spouse, who you hate to be away from?  If it's more like the former, then it's time to get personal with Jesus.  Take this time of Advent to get to know him more.


Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
          On the surface, Alma and Riley seem to be like many other young couples who are preparing to get married.  They happen to be of the high school sweetheart kind.  They met in high school and weren’t really interested in each other at first, but when they got to know each other a little better found that there was a spark between them.  Five years later and that spark has grown into a warm fire of love, so much so that they feel called to go “all in” and make their love permanent in the bond of marriage.
          This is where the “normal” in their relationship ends, though.  After high school, Riley joined the Coast Guard and so, for a little over a year and a half now, Riley and Alma have spent most of their time separated from one another (and we’re not talking just a couple of states here: currently he’s stationed in Alaska).  Thus Alma has spent a lot of time waiting for Riley’s return.  They have a wedding date, though, and they will be married soon; and because of this, Alma has been working hard at making preparations for that day.  She’s focused and this has made her waiting purposeful, even joyful, in spite of the fact that, when Riley returns, her whole world will dramatically change.
          What Alma is experiencing in anticipation of her wedding day is exactly what the Church is inviting us to experience during the season of Advent.  Our Lord Jesus, when he ascended into heaven, promised that he would one day return to bring us to be where he is.  And so, we are now separated from him for a time and must wait for his return.  This waiting is not a “doctor’s office” kind of waiting, however, in which there is nothing to do, but rather it’s a purposeful waiting: a waiting in which we are constantly preparing for his return; a joyful waiting, in spite of the fact that when he returns our whole world will dramatically change.  Advent is the time of year in which we re-focus ourselves on that reality.
          But what kind of preparations should we be making?  Well, like Alma preparing for her wedding day, we need to be about putting everything in order for the day of his return; and John the Baptist shows us where we are to begin: repent, acknowledge your sins, and have your sins forgiven.  Then, as Saint Peter tells us, we must “conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion … awaiting a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  In other words, we must live lives of holiness in which we strive to bring forth justice so as to hasten the coming of the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness, that is, justice, will dwell.  Yet, we struggle to do this.  Why?  I think that it’s because, for too many of us, we’ve put “the cart before the horse”, so to speak.
          You see, Alma anxiously awaits Riley’s return because she’s deeply in love with him (and he with her).  In other words, they have a deep, personal relationship which thus inspires them to go to great lengths to end any separation between them.  Alma is not making all of these preparations for any personal reward that she expects to gain for herself, save that of being united—permanently united—to this person that she is in love with; and she knows that every hour spent making preparations for their wedding day is an hour closer to that moment when Riley will return—that, in fact, each hour thus hastens his return—and thus they will be separated no longer.
          We, however, are apathetic about—perhaps even afraid of—Jesus’ return to us.  And this is precisely because we don’t have a personal relationship with him.  I mean, you don’t get excited to celebrate the coming of your garbage collector every week, do you?  No.  Why?  Well, probably because you don’t even know who he or she is and so you don’t have a personal relationship with him or her.  Thus, your separation throughout the week causes you no great concern and his or her return each week you could equally take or leave.  In fact, the return of your garbage collector each week is only important to you because of what he or she provides to you when he or she comes: the fact that he or she is present there with you once again doesn’t really matter to you at all.  This, I would venture to say, is how we view Jesus: the garbage collector who one day is going to come and clean up our trash, but then leave us to go about our business.
          My brothers and sisters, if our attitude towards Jesus’ second coming is anything like what I’ve just described—or if we just feel a general malaise about his coming—then Advent for us is about waking up to the possibility of entering personally into a relationship with him: because it is only in a personal relationship with him that we will discover a sense of excitement and anticipation for his return.  If we already have it, then we’re inspired, like Alma, to wait expectantly for his return; and we make preparations for it by being cleansed from sin and by enacting works of justice as if we both welcomed his coming and were sure that it was going to happen soon.  If we don’t have that personal relationship, however, then our lives lose focus and, instead of preparing for something, we begin to chase after anything that seems to generate excitement for us.
          If you find yourself in this latter category (and the statistics say that most of us here do), then I want to invite you to ask yourself this question: “Is my life really so good that Jesus can’t offer me anything better?”  My guess is that the answer for all of us is “no”, and that we do wish for more out of life.  If so, then this time of Advent is our time to begin to seek (or to renew) a relationship with Jesus that will give focus and purpose to our waiting for his return.
          My brothers and sisters, in the second letter of Saint Peter we heard good news: that the delay of the Lord’s return is not a delay in the fulfillment of his promises, but rather it is a merciful delay, allowing time for each of us to repent and to prepare for his coming.  But he won’t wait forever!  Therefore, let us turn to Jesus now and seek to know him more deeply and more personally—most especially by carving out time each day to spend with him in quiet reflection on the Scriptures—so that the best present that you receive this Christmas will be the joy of knowing the Lord, deep in your heart.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 6th & 7th, 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014

What happens when we're left in charge

          Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a blessed 1st Sunday of Advent and are entering into this holy season full of hope with hearts open to our Lord for whom we wait in anxious expectation.

          This Sunday also opened the Year for Consecrated Life, in which the Church will celebrate the gift and beauty of men and women who have responded to God's call to live consecrated to Him for service to the Church and the world.  Check out the USCCB's web site for more information.

          Also, check out this series on Lifetime in which 5 women discern a call to religious life.  It is a great peak into what religious life is all about.

Christmas is still four weeks away.  Get into the spirit by living Advent instead of diving head-first into Christmas.  It'll make Christmas even better!


Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
          If any of you here grew up with siblings, you’ll remember that life as you were growing up was a constant battle for superiority in your home.  From who gets the bathroom first, to who gets the preferred bunk, to who gets to decide which radio station you get to listen to and which television program you get to watch, there is always a constant battle to be “in charge” of something in the house.  This is never more true than when mom and dad are going to be away for an evening and leave one of the kids “in charge”.
          Being “left in charge” was like a dream come true for kid with multiple siblings (and often a nightmare for the others who were passed over for the responsibility).  For the one in charge, this was a chance to proclaim your superiority in all matters because if ever there was a dispute, you had the trump card because you were left “in charge”.  Thus you made all of the decisions and did everything your way.
          If you were a teenager when your parents left you in charge, then your power for abstract thinking opened many more possibilities for you.  Perhaps you’d invite some friends over and do things that you wouldn’t normally be allowed to do if your parents were home.  You’d bribe your younger siblings with candy to keep them quiet and then have fun the way you wanted to.
          Of course, your parents left someone in charge for a reason.  They knew that if anything came up there would need to be one person who could make decisions.  They also wanted to be sure that if anything happened, they would know who should be held responsible for whatever happened.  When they left someone in charge, they did so with the expectation that the house would be in the same order that they left it in (if not better); and if it wasn’t, that the one left in charge would be responsible for the consequences.  Often, they didn’t say exactly what time they would be home, but that shouldn’t have mattered because the one in charge would keep everything together until their return.
          This is not unlike the parable that Jesus uses in the Gospel today.  Jesus is warning his disciples to be alert for the day of his return and uses a story about a man who leaves his household for a journey and entrusts his servants to be in charge while he is gone.  His expectation is that his household will be in the same order that he left it in, if not better.  He tells them that he does not know when he will return and so leaves the expectation that the house will be kept in order throughout his whole journey.  Of course, if your parents came home and found you sleeping, then they’d probably figure that everything was fine.  In Jesus’ parable, however, the servants are admonished to stay awake, because being ready to respond to the master of the house when he returns from a journey is a sign that the servants were fulfilling their responsibilities.
          Now, as it sometimes happens, when one of the kids is put in charge, things can get a little out of control.  Perhaps you and your siblings have made a huge mess.  Or perhaps the friends you invited over invited other friends over—perhaps people you don’t know very well—and the gathering got uncomfortably large.  And perhaps you begin to realize that the situation is more than you can handle on your own.  You begin to think things like “What if mom and dad come home right now?  They’ll kill me!” and “Oh, why did they leave me in charge?  Didn’t they know that I would screw up?!” 
          If you ever had a reaction like this (or saw a sibling have one like it), then you know what the prophet Isaiah was feeling when he proclaimed the words in our first reading today.  Speaking during the time when the Israelites were exiled in Babylon, Isaiah is lamenting of how badly his people have failed God.  They had neglected their covenant duties—in particular, to cast off all false idols and to worship God alone—and so now they found themselves exiled—locked out of the house, so to speak—and they were powerless to fix their failures on their own.
          “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways…” is Isaiah’s way of saying “Don’t you know that we’ll just get in trouble if you leave us alone?”  And the rest of the passage is Isaiah’s desperate call for God to return swiftly so as to make everything right before it gets any worse.  It’s like when things get to the point that you realize that “I’ll be in less trouble if I call mom and dad now and ask them to come home and save me from this mess than if I wait for them to come home and allow things to get even worse.”
          Advent is the time for us to step back and take a look at what has been happening while we have been “in charge”.  It’s the time when we realize “It’s getting late and mom and dad should be home soon, we should start cleaning up!”  If we look at the state of the world that we live in, however, perhaps we’ll begin to feel like the teenager who has let the little gathering of friends grow out of control.  We begin to see that the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket and we feel powerless to do anything about it.
          Thus, our lament at the beginning of this Advent season should echo that of Isaiah: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways…?” and our cry for help, too, should be Isaiah’s cry: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”  This cry, of course, we direct to Jesus, who we wait for constantly in his second coming, especially in this time of Advent.  As we prepare to celebrate the memorial of his first coming, we are reminded that we are still awaiting his second coming in glory and so call to him earnestly to come now and save us from this mess that we are in.
          My brothers and sisters, Jesus has left us in charge, but he hasn’t left us alone.  When he returned to his Father, he said that he was going to prepare a place for us in heaven and that he would return to take us to be where he is.  His instructions to us were to go and make disciples of all men, but he promised us that he would be with us always.  And so we should not fear to call out to him, even if we’ve failed miserably to complete the work that he gave us; because if we admit our failure before him—that is, before he comes to find it on his own—then he will be merciful to us.
          My brothers and sisters, this time of Advent is a gift—an early Christmas present, if you will—an opportunity to refocus ourselves back on the horizon as we await the dawning of that day when Christ, who has already redeemed us from sin, will return to save us from this world and welcome us into the place that he has prepared for us in heaven.  Let us, then, receive this gift with joy and use this time to begin to put the house back in order, and to watch with hope for our Lord’s return to save us from ourselves and to bring us to the life promised to us even now, here in this Holy Eucharist.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – November 30, 2014
Opening of the Year for Consecrated Life